Food Safety insights with Maureen McNamara, Founder of Cannabis Trainers.
Cannabis Trainers provides ServSafe® food safety training for edible makers and Sell-SMaRT™ the responsible cannabis vendor program for sellers. (www.CannabisTrainers.com)
There are many (sooooo many) aspects to the cannabis industry that demand an owners attention. Compliance, great products, great people, great location, finances…. So is a focus on food safety a priority?
Yes it is. And not just for infused products.
For starters, in some states like Colorado it’s required. In other states it will be required, and in general it is a vital component for a professional industry that continues to show the community in which you work that you are committed to creating safe products.
Have you ever had a foodborne illness? I’m going to assume you just nodded your head or thought yes. Check out this statistic: according to the Center for Disease Control there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness (and 3000 people die) every year in the United States.
A quick reminder about the typical symptoms of foodborne illness: vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and nausea. Experiences we would all like to avoid.
What I know for sure… you don’t want your product or your company to ever be associated with making people sick.
Take into account that for medical marijuana patients, they may already be immune compromised. This puts them at an even greater risk for foodborne illness. We need to ask, “Are my employees doing everything possible to ensure a safe, wholesome product?”
A properly trained staff is a critical necessity in the cannabis industry. Whether it is currently required or not, your commitment to safety for your patients and consumers show that you care and are committed to high standards. Additionally, you may avoid fines, shut downs and recalls. These all create a drain on your finances… but also your reputation.
The FDA has identified five key factors that often contribute to outbreaks:
- Purchasing Food from Unsafe Sources
- Improper Holding Time and Temperature
- Inadequate Cooking
- Improper Cleaning and Sanitizing
- Poor Personal Hygiene
1. Safe Purchasing:
Be aware of starting with high quality ingredients. Ask your purveyors questions about their inspections and quality controls. If possible do a tour of the facilities from which you buy your products. Are you impressed with their food safety standards?
2. Avoiding Time & Temperature Abuse:
Bacteria needs an ideal temperature (between 41°-135°) and a bit of time (4-hours) to grow to harmful levels. Keep your cold food cold and cool your heated foods quickly.
3. Inadequate Cooking:
If you are infusing oil, I strongly encourage you to work with your local health deparment for a procedure that will ensure the oil is cooked to a high enough temperature (while not messing with your chemistry) to eliminate potential pathogens.
4. Cleaning and Sanitizing:
Micro organisms grow well at room temperature. Cleaning and sanitzing is important to ensure they are reduced or eliminated. Certainly all your food contact surfaces must be cleaned and sanitized whenever you change tasks and at least every four hours. This isn’t just for making the infused products, please keep this in mind at the store level as well. Think of how many hands (both employees and customers) may be touching the product containers. Avoid cross-contamination and clean and santize often.
5. Personal Hygiene:
In each food safety class I have facilitated in the last 18 years, everyone admits they or their team could improve the personal hygiene. Shout out to any bearded folks… did you know that the FDA food code requires facial hair that is 1-inch or longer to be restrained? Got beard net?
Because most of the foods that are created in the cannabis industry are “ready to eat” foods, great personal hygiene and frequent, thorough handwashing is essential. The FDA reccommends a 20 second handwashing procudure with hot water (≥100°), a soapy lather, vigoursly rubbing hands for at least 10-15 seconds, rinsing well and using a single use towel to dry your hands.
I know… it sounds basic. When I observe people washing their hands it is often for less than 8-seconds. Not only is handwashing a great way to stay healthy ourselves, it is a key way to ensure your products are safe.
I’ll throw down a challenge for you! This month- focus with your team on personal hygiene and hand washing. Whether you are growing, infusing or selling this is a vital component for a professional, responsible industry. When it come right down to it, you make things that go right into your customer’s and patient’s bodies. Create those products from a foundation of food safety and you’ll more easily create a thriving business.
We would love to hear from you, comment below and let us know what your team does to ensure you are making and selling safe products.